Thursday, January 8, 2009

Career Blindspot

Australia has some pretty knowledgeable sports fans, but it's rare that the crowd knows more about the game than do the players involved. In Sydney on the weekend, the crowd upon the dismissal of Matthew Hayden knew that, as it must to all sportsmen, death had come to Hayden's career.

When he was out bowled for 39, the SCG crowd rose and applauded Hayden to the boundary, not for his innings - which was risky, undisciplined and devoid of footwork - but for his career. All at the ground knew they would not see him again wearing the baggy green - or I should say, all in the crowd knew it. It seems the players in the Australian dressing room don't seem to grasp the fact - and Hayden most of all.

Today it was announced that he had been dropped from the Australian Twenty/20 and One-Day teams. Did this result in any thoughts that his time was at an end? Nope; to whit:

“For my mind it’s as simple as being committed to playing out the summer and then taking the time to either get back on the horse or make a decision not to. It’s as clear cut as that.”

Ah, so all Hayden has to do is decide whether or not he wants to play on and that's all there is to it? Sorry, but playing for Australia is not a right. Or at least it shouldn't be.

To be fair to Hayden, such a belief as his is being encouraged by the captain, Ricky Ponting. This is what Ponting said yesterday after the end of the Sydney test match:

"I'm pretty good mates with Matty, I've known him for a long time, and I've got no indication or inclination either way. He showed a lot of good signs in the second innings of this game on a pretty difficult wicket. If anything, I'd be saying it's all pretty positive that he wants to go on because otherwise I think I would have known if it wasn't that way."

Again it sounds like it is up to Hayden, when to be honest it shouldn't matter a fig whether or not he wants to play on. Wishin' and hopin' don't make things happen in the sporting world. But I guess this is just another example of why I would hate to be a cricket player. Not because of what is happening to Hayden, but for what whoever should be in his place has to go through. Cricket selection is always just that - a selective, and necessarily subjective process (in which it always helps if you're good mates with the captain).

How do you decide who is the best player to open the batting? Cricket has no head to head like tennis, no common opponent like golfers against the course. Unless you have two players playing in the same match, there is little ability to directly compare except through subjective measures - i.e opinion. And with all due respect, if the Australian selectors pick Hayden to play another test then in my opinion their opinions are wrong.

Let's look at the stats - cricket loves statistics almost as much as does baseball. I won't judge Hayden by his last 10 innings, I'll give him his last 15 innings - as Ponting likes to mention that Hayden did ok in India.

So here's the figures for his last 15 knocks:
Matthew Hayden - Average 26.4, Nil 100s, 2 50s, top score 83.

Doesn't look real flash.... but let's compare his final 15 innings to other recent Australian batsmen whose careers were ended by the selectors rather than by their own choosing:

Greg Blewitt - Average 30.9; Nil 100s; two 50s; top score 89.
Darren Lehmann - Average 28.6; Nil 100s; five 50s, top score 70.
Michael Slater - Average 39.8; Nil 100s; three 50s, top score 86.
Mark Waugh - Average 33.7; Nil 100s; two 50s, top score 86.

Now you have to say there is a fair bit of similarity about those 4 men with Hayden, except that Hayden actually has the worst average, equal least number of 50s, and the lowest top score.

Hayden's old opening batting mate Justin Langer is a case in point of a man who jumped before he was pushed. Here are his final 15 innings figures:
Justin Langer - Average 33.6; one 100; one 50; top score 100*.

Adam Gilchrist was much the same - his last 15 innings:
Average 35.2; one 100; four 50s; top score 102*

Gilchrist and Langer knew it was time, and thus were able to leave with an appropriate send-off. They are the rare ones though - few are able to acknowledge that the powers are gone, and that they will never come back.

Rarer still are those who are able to leave while still at the top. The two best in this case are Steve Waugh and Greg Chappell. Here are their final 15 figures:
Greg Chappell - Average 52.3, three 100s, two 50s, top score 182.
Steve Waugh - Average 80.7, three 100s, four 50s, top score 156.

Admittedly Waugh's last 15 innings included 2 against both Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, which should not count as test matches, so let's remove them and see what we get:
Steve Waugh - Average 53.2, two 100s, three 50s, top score 115.

Still pretty damn good.

Hayden perhaps thinks he should get picked to tour England later in the year because his form before the last Ashes series wasn't real flash either. In the 15 innings before the 2005 Ashes tour, Hayden averaged only 34. He was in the middle of a very lean trot. From 6 October 2004 to 25 August 2005 his figures over 30 innings (15 test matches) were:
Average - 30.1, Nil 100s, five 50s, top score 70.

And yet he was picked to go to England where he averaged only 35.3 (and his only innings over 50 was in the final test match).

So let's not beat around the bush if he is treated like other batsmen have been in past years he should be dropped without a second thought - Ponting can find someone else to be his mate in the slips.

And best of all we have a few choices from the Sheffield Shield - the 31 year old Chris Rogers who is averaging 82.62 for WA; the 28 year old Michael Klinger who is averaging 90.6 for SA, or the brilliant 20 year old from NSW, Phil Hughes who is averaging 59.81. All three are in form, and are good for (in the case of Klinger and Rogers) another 4 years, or another 10-12 years in the case of Hughes.

The lights are out, the balloon has gone up, the votes have been counted, the nation has spoken, the numbers are in.

It's time to go Matthew Hayden.

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